Bessie Thomas didn’t expect to live 100 years, but she had faith.
“Jesus Christ is my secret,” Thomas said. “(God) is the reason I’m able to enjoy thinking about 100 years.”
Thomas turns 100 on Saturday and friends and family are celebrating her milestone with a party at Sacred Heart Cultural Center in Augusta. The party is from 3 to 6 p.m., and friends are welcome to drop in to share birthday wishes.
The Evans resident, for whom the Bessie Thomas Community Center in Grovetown is named, spent her life teaching the young and the old.
“Children and seniors have been my passion all my life,” Thomas said.
Thomas started teaching in 1935 at the Clary Cut Elementary School in Harlem. She later taught at Oakey Grove Elementary School in Evans before taking a teaching position in McCormick County, where she taught for 32 years.
She taught at black-only schools until desegregation but said integration didn’t make much difference to her.
“It didn’t change too much because the kids were just kids,” Thomas said. “It was just a child with me. They could have been blue, brown or yellow, whatever. It was just a child with me. I think every child should be treated alike, with love and care.”
Throughout her 37-year career, Thomas taught the developmentally challenged and elementary school up through the eighth grade.
Sharing her faith is another of Thomas’ passions. She has been teaching Sunday school since she was 12.
“I’ve been teaching Sunday school all my life practically,” said Thomas, who still teaches the adult Sunday School class at Emmanuel Faith Christian Center. “It is just something I love to do.”
Those who attend church with Thomas consider the woman they call “Mom Bessie” an asset.
Leon Borders, a church deacon, said Thomas lives her life by the word of God and is a great example for others in the church.
“She’s a wonderful person to have around,” Borders said, “We can receive all the knowledge she possesses because she’s been through a lot of things we have not been through. We have the tendency, as the younger generation, not to focus on people that are older and have wisdom.
“It states in the Bible that we’re supposed to listen to people who have wisdom. She’s full of it. She’s just a blessing to us.”
Thomas retired from teaching in 1974. After a five-year hiatus, she became coordinator for the Columbia County Council on Aging. She and an assistant worked out of Blanchard Park Community Center running a Meals on Wheels Program, offering lunches to seniors at the park and organizing afternoon activities.
After 15 years Thomas retired and was honored with the Grovetown senior center being named for her.
Thomas lives by the Biblical philosophy to obey God’s word and love people no matter the situation.
“I love children and I love people,” Thomas said. “I don’t know why God made me to do that and I’m going to do it. People can’t do anything just to make me hate them. I don’t do that. I don’t have hate.”
As the matriarch of her church, Borders said she’s an inspiration and an example to others.
“I think the one thing we all learned from Mom Bessie is that she’s a wonderful spirit,” Borders said. “She just loves people and she follows the word of God. If you do that, you can’t go wrong. It’s just as plain and simple as that.”